The Leader of the Australian Democrats, Queensland Senator Andrew Bartlett, has ‘stood aside’ following publication of details of an incident in the Senate chamber last Thursday night (Dec 4).
It is alleged that Bartlett abused and manhandled South Australian Liberal Senator Jeannie Ferris in a dispute over wine stolen from a Liberal Party Christmas party.
The incident is likely to further damage the hapless party which has been riven by internal dissension in recent years. Bartlett took over the leadership in 2002, following the resignation of Senator Natasha Stott Despoja. Stott Despoja had in turn defeated Senator Meg Lees in a leadership challenge in 2001. In 1997 the previous leader, Cheryl Kernot, defected from the party and joined the ALP.
Recent opinion polls have put the party’s electoral support as low as 1%.
Text of statement from Senator Andrew Bartlett, published today on the party’s web-site.
Date: 6th December 2003
Statement by Senator Andrew Bartlett
This is a brief statement regarding the coverage to do with my behaviour towards Senator Jeannie Ferris.
As the letter from Senator Ferris to myself regarding the matter states, I have already apologised privately and she has accepted my apology. However, given the public commentary on the matter, it is appropriate for me to repeat that apology publicly and unconditionally.
Physical aggression is never appropriate, and regardless of any of the other circumstances surrounding the incident, it is not acceptable.
I also apologised to my Party Room colleagues and to the Australian Democrats for causing damage to our hard-won reputation.
Text of a statement from the Australian Democrats party-room, following a phone hook-up today.
Date: 6th December 2003
Statement by the Australian Democrats’ Party Room:
The Democrats wholeheartedly endorse the unreserved apology offered by Senator Bartlett to Senator Ferris for unacceptable behaviour and emphasise that it is not in keeping with principles to which we adhere.
Senator Bartlett has requested and been granted leave and Senator Allison will be Acting Leader as of today.
Senator Bartlett will work through the issues raised by this incident and will do so in private and with the full personal support of his Democrat colleagues.
This is the article in the Herald-Sun that broke the story.
Mauled by a wild MP
By Gerard McManus, Michael Harvey and Jason Frenkel
DEMOCRATS leader Andrew Bartlett mauled a female Liberal senator and hurled abuse at her during a late-night fracas over stolen wine.
A shaken Senator Jeannie Ferris was left nursing an injured upper arm after chasing Senator Bartlett, who had taken five bottles of wine from a Liberal Party Christmas barbecue in Parliament House.
The ugly altercation spilled on to the floor of the Senate chamber, where Senator Bartlett repeatedly shook Senator Ferris by the shoulder and called her a “f…ing bitch”.
Senators, including fellow Democrat Lyn Allison, watched in horror as the purple-shirted and purple-faced party leader lurched at Senator Ferris, grabbed her then hurled abuse.
Senator Ferris was deeply upset by the Thursday night incident and yesterday said her arm still ached badly.
Burly Senator Bartlett, 39, a former champion rugby player, apologised in person and in writing yesterday.
He has campaigned against violence to women.
Senator Ferris was prepared to let the matter rest until Senator Bartlett apologetically sent a card yesterday – and a single bottle of wine – wishing her a “relaxing break”.
Senator Ferris wrote back, urging the Democrats leader to seek a “treatment program”.
“There is no doubt in my mind that you were seriously under the influence of alcohol and perhaps you should consider whether a treatment program could assist you,” she said in the letter, which was also sent to Senate President Paul Calvert.
“Whilst I said to you this morning that I accept your apology – and I do – my arm remains quite sore, and I continue to be deeply offended by your behaviour.
“You clearly intended to intimidate me and were obviously angry because I had sought the return of five bottles of wine that you had taken to your office from the Coalition Christmas barbecue.
“You grabbed my arm with considerable strength and called me a `f…ing bitch’ several times. When I asked you to let go of me and tried to walk away from you, you followed me continuing to call me a “f…ing bitch”.
Senator Ferris hosted the Coalition Christmas Party and had welcomed Senator Bartlett as an unexpected guest and did not object to him joining the drinking.
But Senator Ferris decided enough was enough when she spotted the Democrats leader hightailing from the party, arms full of wine.
Liberal staff were despatched to retrieve the five bottles, but it is understood they returned with only four.
When a Senate division was called later in the night, Senators Ferris and Bartlett came face to face on the floor of the chamber and the angry confrontation ensued.
Footage of the proceedings did not pick up the incident but showed a stunned Senator Allison watching in horror.
Senator Bartlett then came into video view as he staggered across the chamber.
A spokeswoman for Senator Bartlett last night said the Democrats leader regretted his behaviour.
“Senator Bartlett said he regretted his comments to Senator Ferris and any aggressive behaviour.” she said.
“He has apologised in person and in writing yesterday morning.”
Senator Bartlett has built a career in public life on compassion towards animals and has been a strident campaigner on women’s issues.
He lashed the Federal Government for cutting funding for domestic violence programs during his Budget reply in May.
And he highlighted the role of domestic violence in homelessness at a Democrats youth conference in July, at which he also spoke of the dangers of teenage binge drinking.
Before entering Parliament in 1997, he spoke on behalf of Men Against Sexual Assault at a rally against domestic violence in Brisbane.
Preventing violence against women has been a key theme for the Democrats. Senator Bartlett’s predecessor, Natasha Stott Despoja, spoke on the issue just 12 months ago in Parliament.
Andrew Bartlett played for a champion team while representing Queensland in under-16s rugby union.
“In those days . . . he was capable of physical exertion,” his biography on the Democrats website states.